Photos by MARK COATSWORTH Rating: NNNNN
Stern benches, cheesy planters and concrete overkill – the front yard of our city government has lapsed into a state of failed brilliance. Happily, the city has called for a contest to revitalize Nathan Phillips Square. Here's where emergency renos are needed most.
Bird crap all over the chess tables
Chess is a thinking person's game, but the people who forgot to provide some cover for these scat-stained tables at the southeast entrance to the square (there's ample foliage in underused green space nearby) must have lost their marbles.
Wasted green space
More could be done with the vacant tree-lined green space along Bay. But the worst example of wasted green space in the square is the park-like setting on the western edge. This quiet sanctuary from the hustle and bustle is seriously underused because it's too often barricaded by a temporary stage for events.
The ratty-looking public bathrooms and skate rental joint
It's not the scale of this cinder-block monstrosity that bugs us, it's the overpowering greyness that says “blah.” It needs a radical rethink, but finishing the face and planting trees in the unused flower beds around back would help spruce it up in the short term.
The pulpit erected so members of the public could rage against the machine has been relegated to obscurity on the square's southwest fringe – a few 4-by-4s from Home Depot a speaker's corner does not make – with nary a sign to announce its presence. If city fathers and mothers were serious about restoring its prominence, and about their commitment to democracy, they'd move it to the front doors, closer to the seat of power.
The statue of Winston Churchill
Yeah, we know he's the first recipient of the city's Freedom Award. But should the mug of one the English-speaking world's most powerful icons dominate the main square of the most diverse city in the world? We say no.
One of the world's biggest underground parking lots
Squares are supposed to be about attracting people, not cars. But the stairwell leading to the PATH system of underground walkways is almost lost next to the enormous aboveground parking lot vent on Queen at the south end of the square.
The Peace Garden
We're not with those who want to move this history-rich monument promoting peace. It could do with a few refinements, especially of the kind that will encourage people to sit. We'd like to see this green space expanded east and south along the fountain to provide a natural corridor into the square. In its current confined space, it seems tacked on and lacks the feel of real a garden.
The chintzy benches
Looking like they haven't been replaced since the square was opened in 1965, these butt-ugly resting spots are matched only in their ugliness by the paint-flecked concrete planters, chunky picnic tables and Eucan advertising bins littering the square. We say trash them.
The absence of a definable entranceway
A square is supposed to announce itself to the public and invite passersby. Nathan Phillips seems not to care if you walk on by. This unimpressive concrete pathway on Queen, with a parking lot on the west side by Osgoode Hall, a loading dock at the rear and a pyloned pathway on the southeast corner, doesn't exactly welcome visitors. What this square desperately needs is a grand statement, something akin to the arches that mark the fountain.
The closed-to-the-public raised walkways
An integral part of Viljo Revell's design, the raised walkways that border the square used to provide a bird's-eye view of protests and other huge happenings, but have been closed for maintenance reasons for more than a decade. Some want to tear them down, reasoning that they close off the square. But we say it's the closing of these graceful connectors themselves that's cutting off the public.
Lack of public art
Henry Moore's Archer is breathtaking but looks weirdly isolated – some would say out of place – in the concrete expanse of a square devoid of other artistic markers. Moving it might be too radical, but perhaps using the nearby overhang behind Moore's masterpiece to mount temporary exhibitions (the pillars themselves could be used to showcase works) could help create a definable space and focal point for art in the square.
The closed rotunda
It's unconscionable, but this section above the square has been off-limits ever since a tile from the running track came loose and hit someone on the head. We say open it up and convert the entire area into a rooftop garden. A garden demonstration project's already on the site.
The dead zones
All around City Hall – on its eastern flank along Bay and around back – the square's openness is taken over by concrete. But it's underneath the pillared overhang at the front of City Hall that this starkness is most felt. The Café by the Square patio provides some life, but opening City Hall's library onto the square would really help the space take off.
Godawful bike racks
The only decent ones are at the back of City Hall, near the little-known entrance used by couriers, bureaucrats and pols trying to duck the media. It's as if the city doesn't want citizens to ride there.